Case Study: Lenovo’s “eLounge” Opens its Virtual Doors for Business
Virtual worlds have opened up new sales channels for businesses. New Media Knowledge spoke to one PC vendor who has built its own.
When PC manufacture Lenovo was looking for new channels with which to interact with its customers, it turned to Nortel’s web.alive technology to develop an “eLounge”. It acts very much like a shop in virtual world Second Life, allowing shoppers to interact with each other on a virtual store floor, ask questions of sales staff and hear responses via 3D spatial audio and graphics.
Nortel's web.alive is a virtual world software and collaboration application that provides an immersive, interactive and web-integrated world with 3D voice and graphics. Nortel says it is particularly useful for business collaboration, virtual training and ecommerce.
NMK spoke to Lenovo’s Vice President of Global eCommerce, Ajit Sivadasan, about the company’s experience using a virtual sales and customer collaboration channel.
Why did Lenovo choose to deploy web.alive?
We are always exploring ways of helping customers make better decisions around technology and computing. In line with that philosophy, we have been experimenting with several cutting-edge technologies to help improve user experience. When we started our conversations with Nortel and looked at the web.alive product, we were instantly struck by the possibilities to help our customers have a better experience online. The technology was user-centric, intuitive and flexible.
How long has eLounge been going and what has the response rate/take up rate been like so far?
We launched the eLounge for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2009. Since the launch, we have had thousands of customers go through the experience already. While we still have not compiled all our metrics, it is safe to assume that each and every person that came through the site had a better appreciation for what Lenovo offers and had a better immersive ecommerce experience. Above all, this concept was meant to help customers make informed decisions on complicated technologies. In the coming months we will try and leverage specific capabilities to solve complex business problems that are difficult to communicate through traditional web pages; some of them might lead to sales but clearly education, awareness and accurate information for customers is the primary objective.
What does eLounge bring to the party that other existing channels can't or don't?
It brings the convenience of retail shopping without any of its typical headaches and the ability to talk to a real person who is knowledgeable about the product in the convenience of your home. For us it also provides the ability to bring experts into a space without any significant overhead. All of this really allows for us to maximise the user experience at the lowest cost.
Above: Ajit Sivadasan
What sort of background do eLounge visitors tend to be from?
It is difficult to say with certainty because we do not survey customers that come through the eLounge experience on the Lenovo website. Internet shoppers tend to be more tech savvy than the average customer however, so we would anticipate that users of the eLounge would predominantly have some degree of technical knowledge.
Do people 'get it'?
The user interface is intuitive and we have had no reports of difficulties from customers yet.It has exceeded our initial scepticism about customer reaction to the concept. The experience is simple to get used to and customers can truly derive value; that is a powerful combination for us.
Does Lenovo have a presence on Second Life already?
No. Part of the challenge when we started this project was the negative experience people already had around Second Life and our own scepticism around value creation. This experience is quite different from Second Life and instantly adds value because it seeks to solve specific and pointed user experience issues without all the complexity around user interface.
Is this project just supplementary to that? How much 'management' does it require and just how does one ‘staff’ an eLounge?
This project is supplementary to our customer interfaces - Web, phones, retail and chat - and allows us to add a few more dimensions to the Web experience. It is meant to fix some of the deficiencies we have in a traditional 2D web space with the help of voice, video and live expertise. It answers the often unasked question - if only I knew what the customer was thinking about while browsing the site. We have some sales people, technical people and general staff in the lounge to interact with customers and stakeholders.
Is the eLounge the new call centre? Do you envisage this is the way the customer side will be run five/ten years from now as standard?
There is a good possibility of that for the future, although I fully expect this experience to evolve tremendously with some very powerful improvements for user experience to come. Scenarios such as virtual reality, online gaming in a multi-user sense using this environment, sharing of data on complex projects traditionally done via conference calls, webex and emails. So, lots of possibilities as long as people can translate this into real and tangible benefits.
What's Lenovo doing on the social networking front, if anything?
Lenovo is engaged with several social networking aspects, everything from internal/external blogs to collecting customer reviews/feedback and having a presence on popular social networking sites such as Facebook. At the end, everything we do should help our customers, as it pertains to our products and solutions.